Gov. Peter Shumlin says he'd like to see lawmakers legalize marijuana during the current legislative session. But it now appears unlikely that the proposal will allow individual Vermonters to grow their own marijuana.
Backers of the legalization bill are hopeful that the legislation will be on the Senate floor for full debate sometime next week.
Somewhat different versions of the bill have been approved by two key Senate committees, and this week the Senate Appropriations committee will view the plan.
Shumlin wants to phase in legalization to make certain that a number of important issues are thoroughly studied, including appropriate tax rates, the number of retail outlets that will be authorized to sell marijuana and the number of large growers that will be needed to meet statewide demand.
The governor says he feels the state is now ready to pass a legalization bill.
“We've let other states go first. We've learned from their mistakes,” he says. “That's why we're not doing edibles. That's why we're changing a lot of things that they got wrong. Tax rates that are so high that it doesn't drive out the illegal market. My view is that the sooner that we can have up and running a system that makes more sense for Vermont, the better it is for our state."
Shumlin also likes the idea of allowing Vermonters to grow their own marijuana as long it’s done outdoors.
“A lot of states have had a lot of challenges with indoor growing. So just don't allow it,” he says. “My own view is that if you want to grow a plant or two in your garden during the grow season here in Vermont, I personally don't have any big objection to that. I think it makes good common sense."
But allowing individual Vermonters to grow their own marijuana is not part of the current proposal.
Chittenden Sen. David Zuckerman is a strong supporter of the Senate bill. He supports the homegrown plan, but he says passage of the bill would be jeopardized if it's part of the legislation.
Instead, he notes that the bill includes a special study to determine the feasibility of allowing homegrown in the future.
"It's been made very clear from a number of my colleagues that if homegrown is in there at the start then they can't support this shift moving forward,” Zuckerman says. “On the other hand, I do appreciate that the language in the bill has provisions to allow for homegrown in all likelihood in the future as people understand the lay of the land better.”
Zuckerman also wants to make certain that a large number of people are authorized to commercially grow marijuana in order to effectively compete with the black market, “to make sure we have enough supply that it keeps the price lower and therefore undercuts the underground market."
The most recent version of the bill legalizes marijuana in January of 2018, and it also imposes a 25 percent tax on all sales.
There would be roughly 30 retail outlets located throughout the state. Individual Vermonters will be able to purchase a half ounce at a time, with a total possession limit of 1 ounce.
However, many of these details could be changed as the bill works its way through the legislative process.
Correction 12:52 p.m. 2/16/15 The original version of this story mistakenly referred to Sen. Zuckerman as the lead sponsor of the bill; he is a strong supporter. The bill's lead sponsors are Windham Sen. Jeannette White and Caledonia Sen. Joe Benning.
The story also incorrectly stated that Vermonters would be allowed to possess up to a half ounce of marijuana; they could possess a full ounce, and purchase a half ounce at a time.